I have always been fascinated by how creativity works. Where do ideas originate? Is that “bolt from the blue” really from the blue? Does that light bulb above our heads shed light?
During one phase of my career, I taught gifted and talented elementary students. I loved to challenge them with problems that required creative approaches. One was asking them to design a package that would allow them to drop a raw egg from a second-story window so that it would not break on impact.
Many eggs did break, which the students found riotously amusing. But not so the administrators, so we had to stop this activity.
Another challenge was to “find a star inside an apple.”
It’s there. Stop reading here while you try to visualize the solution.
While you are thinking about the apple, let’s use another fruit. How do you peel a banana?
Time’s up. Exchange papers and compare answers.
Solving the “star in apple” riddle requires that we approach the problem of slicing an apple from an entirely new direction. I wager that all your life, you cut open an apple by slicing it vertically from the stem. Next time, try this: Do not cut it from top to bottom. Roll it on one side and slice it crossways — along its equator. Inside, you’ll find a little surprise — the core and seeds form a perfect five-point star.
As for the proper way to peel a banana, odds are you’re doing it wrong. If you are like most Americans, you break back the stem and pull the skin off one strip at a time. This is wrong, as the stem often fails to break, leaving you with a mushy mess.
Natives of banana-producing regions will tell you that the correct way to disrobe a banana is to start at the opposite end. Pinch the black nub, and the sections of skin will separate beautifully, allowing you to de-skin and enjoy a perfect, peel-less piece of fruit.
My favorite book on how to become more creative is “A Whack On The Side of the Head” by Roger von Oech. It contains many exercises that help you free up your creative wonder. Some samples:
-Don’t fall in love with ideas
-Slay a sacred cow
-Check your ego
-Try a random idea
-What would your grandma do
-Take the least important thing and make it larger
-Think like a wise fool
(He gives the example of taking a contrary position. For example, everyone would agree that, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” The wise fool would say, “It’s OK to do something poorly; otherwise you’ll never let yourself be a beginner at a new activity.” I can very much relate to this one.)
Another creativity guru I have cited before was Rollo May, who wrote “The Courage To Create.”
He makes the distinction between creativity for its own sake and truly creating something worthy. That is, creativity is more than cleverness. Creativity must meet at the intersection of “talent” and “the encounter.”
Let’s use painting as an example. Cezanne had talent as a painter. He encountered a tree, but saw it in a totally different way. He applied his creativity and talent to paint a tree in a way that had never before existed. Further, he made all of us look at trees in a way we never had before.
How do we capture this creativity and use it in our own lives, whether we are writing songs, painting trees or starting businesses?
I don’t know.
While working with education programs across the state, people were always asking me that question. How could they be more creative in marketing and building their programs?
I tried putting together a presentation. But I only got as far as the “finding the star in an apple” demonstration.
I’m not sure if learning how to be more creative is even possible. It’s like teaching someone how to be taller, or how to see the color green.
Or how to look at stars.